Editorial: Marijuana legalization will bring challenges

The ramifications of legalized marijuana keep popping up, as governments try to prepare for the new reality that is rapidly approaching. Municipalities are at the sharp end of the issue. As so often happens, they will have the bulk of the responsibility, while having the least power and the fewest resources.

Victoria city council has offered a list of suggestions to the provincial government, as the province tries to answer its own slice of the many questions about the production, sale and use of marijuana. The city’s list gives a taste of the many possibilities that policymakers have to foresee.

article continues below

The province asked for input on the minimum age for possession of pot, and the city suggests making it 19, the same as for liquor. That makes sense both to prevent headaches for everyone from police to store clerks, and to acknowledge the medical evidence that marijuana has a harmful effect on the developing brains of teenagers.

Drug-impaired driving is an obvious concern, as police and government officials look for reliable instruments to test for pot impairment. The city wants laws that take a strong line and have zero tolerance for drug impairment among young drivers with L or N licences. Anything less is inviting a problem of the kind we already have with alcohol impairment.

Among other new tasks, police will have to watch for impaired drivers and track down those who violate new laws on how much each person can possess and grow. Victoria police Chief Del Manak warned council he expects legalization to add to the workload of his officers, a prediction that prompted scornful responses from advocates of legalization.

Perhaps with Manak’s warning in mind, city councillors are asking the province to build the legalization framework so it reduces municipal policing costs. It’s one the province should take seriously, as municipalities carry too much of the work created by higher levels of government. At least on its face, it should be possible to save law-enforcement money if we legalize something that has been illegal, but Manak suggests appearances can be deceiving.

Not that making something illegal stops it from happening, of course. Just look at the cannabis-consumption lounges that have sprung up despite the city’s prohibition against them. The city’s list of suggestions includes a licensing system for consumption lounges.

“We’re seeing a need for it in our community right now, as there are lounges that are operating illegally based on our regulations and current laws,” said Coun. Jeremy Loveday.

There’s a curious logic there — that we should identify a community’s legitimate needs by the laws that people break. Should we then instruct drivers to leave their cars unlocked because car thieves demonstrate society’s need for free transportation?

Facetiousness aside, if we allow lounges for the consumption of alcohol, why would we not allow similar establishments for the consumption of legal marijuana? The difference, of course, is that most pot is smoked. Studies have suggested that like cigarette smoke, marijuana smoke contains carcinogens.

We have finally managed to put strong rules around cigarette smoking to protect employees and bystanders from the hazards of second-hand smoke. It would be foolish to go backward by upending that work for pot smokers.

As councillors recommended in their list, clean-air bylaws have to apply to marijuana.

City council has not plumbed the depths of the potential regulatory headaches, but it has made some sensible recommendations to the province. More difficult decisions lie ahead.

No doubt, the law of unintended consequences will go into effect along with the new marijuana laws.

Read Related Topics

© Copyright Times Colonist